St. Thomas Skywatch January + February 2017
Up North people are experiencing winter and perhaps it was to escape winter that you decided to visit the Virgin Islands. Many people think that winter is caused by the Earth being farther form the Sun. The Earth is closest to the Sun in January and farthest from the Sun in July. On January 4th the Earth will be the closest to the Sun for the entire year, only 91,402,505 miles away. Besides, while people in the Northern Hemisphere are experiencing winter, people in the Southern Hemisphere are having summer. And we're all on the same Earth.
After the Sun has set and the sky begins to grow dark, look for a very bright star-like object in the west. This is the planet Venus. Because Venus is so bright and because the air makes it appear to change colors, it is the most commonly reported UFO!
As it gets darker, look higher in the sky for the planet Mars which appears as a bright, red, star-like object. If you are up after midnight, Jupiter the largest of all the planets can be seen in the eastern sky. Later still, Saturn will rise in the east.
High in the south are seven bright stars that form Orion, the Hunter. Two stars form his shoulders (bright red Betelgeuse and Bellatrix), two more his knees (Saiph and the very bright Rigel) and three his belt. If you think of Orion facing you, in his left hand (on your right), he holds high his shield of faint stars. High over his head, his right hand (on your left) holds a club also made of faint stars. Orion's shield protects him from Taurus, the Bull and Orion is about to hit Taurus with his club. You may have trouble finding a bull in the sky, but to the west of Orion look for a bright red star Aldebaran. This star is the red right eye of the bull.
Orion is not alone in his celestial hunt. By Orion's feet are his two hunting dogs. Canis Major the Big Dog is easy to find. Look for the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius, and you have found the Big Dog. Between Sirius and Orion is a somewhat fainter star, this is Procyon and Canis Minor, the Little Dog.
January 3-4 is also the peak of the Quadrantids Meteor Shower. Each meteor or "shooting star" is really a pebble sized matter burning up some 30 miles over your head. At various times during the year the Earth passes through clouds of dust left behind by various comets. When we do, we experience a meteor shower. The best time to look is between midnight and dawn.
On February 10th there will be a penumbral eclipse of the Moon. The Earth's shadow has two parts, the umbra, the darker part surrounding the center of the shadow, and the penumbra the outer and lighter part. The Moon will pass through the lighter part of the Earth's shadow. When the Moon rises a thin part of the shadow will already cover part of the Moon. The middle of the eclipse is at 8:43 pm and the eclipse will end at 10:53. This is a slow event and the lighter part of the Earth's shadow is very difficult to distinguish.